cover image Good Hearts

Good Hearts

Reynolds Price. Atheneum Books, $18.95 (275pp) ISBN 978-0-689-11973-6

Rosacoke Mustian and Wesley Beavers are beloved of readers who met them in Price's first novel, A Long and Happy Life. Here they are again. Their marriage has indeed been three decades long, but has it been happy? Rosa thinks so, but Wesley feels dead of heart, facing ""a black wall of defeat.'' In other words, midlife crisis. So he leaves Rosa one morning just before Christmas, drives to Nashville and begins an affair with a warm and supportive 26-year-old woman named Wilson. Suffused with guilt and bewilderment, abandoned Rosa begins to receive ominous phone calls, and on New Year's Eve she awakens to a rapist in her bed. The ensuing events give Price a chance to ruminate about the omnipresence of God and His role in individual lives, the stages of marital love, the pitting of personal fulfillment against loyalty and responsibility. He does so in the sweet singing voice that distinguishes his fiction, mixing plain and lofty words, finding fresh and provocative similes, managing to be both humorous and poignant. His ability to portray simple, good-hearted country folk without condescensionRosa's elderly mother, her slightly dimwitted brother Rato, wise old black Mary, a waitress in a dineris as finely tuned as ever. In this fable-like narrative, however, there is a superfluity of good people, generous motives and noble behavior. Even the rapist, it turns out, is motivated by a desire to bestow ``the actual worship that all women dream of.'' The narrative at times reminds one of a high-minded hymn to the essential goodness of human nature. While no Price novel can be called a disappointment, this one may leave readers feeling they have swallowed a marshmallow sundae. Literary Guild main selection. (May)